Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Yakimali's Gift
GENRE: YA Historical Fiction

Fernanda pressed her heels into the horse’s sides. “Faster, pretty one, faster. We want to feel the wind in our hair, no?”

The horse flicked its ears then galloped across the plain, kicking up stones from the hard ground. Fernanda leaned closer to the horse’s neck, her long braid slipping over her shoulder. The animal’s smell of grassy manure and sweat filled her with the thrill of riding. It had been too long.

Her body rocked with the rhythm of the pounding hooves. Water streaked from her eyes as she raced across the desert, dodging barrel cactuses and mesquite bushes. Her rebozo slipped to her shoulders; then the shawl untied completely and was gone. Fernanda glanced over her shoulder and saw it flutter to the ground. A laugh burst from her chest, and watching a hawk fly high into the sky, she thought, I feel as free as that bird!

The power of the horse flowed through her, charging her with the desire for adventure, her heart soaring beyond Tubac to worlds far away, worlds full of golden riches, handsome men, and green hills that rolled on forever. Worlds where she would ride, explore, and each day discover something new.

Before realizing how far she’d gone, she saw her family’s adobe hut. She tightened the reins, stopped the horse, and squinted toward the house. Her soaring heart dropped like the hawk diving to the ground. There, in front of the hut with her hands on her hips, stood her mother.


  1. There's some really solid writing here! I like the world you are creating, and the details you use really bring it to life.

    My biggest recommendations for this piece are twofold: Less telling, and more conflict.

    We understand (quite beautifully) how free your narrator is and wants to be in the action (the shawl falls away and she laughs). I don't think we need her to see a hawk and think "I feel free." I'd also argue that we don't really need her to tell us about how much she wants distant worlds in the following paragraph. I think that's all there in the action, and it's stronger--and less overstated--if it's just told that way.

    We need some hint of conflict other than her mother at the end. Otherwise it goes for too long without a solid hook. She mentions she hasn't done this in a while--can we get a sense of why? Why isn't her life one full of freedom?

    (also, could we maybe get the horse's name? If it's her narration, wouldn't she call the horse by its name instead of calling it "the horse" throughout?)

    Hope that helps! Good luck!

  2. While I can feel her freedom and her exhilaration, there are parts that are confusing to me.

    You describe tears streaking down her face, but she laughs in the same paragraph, so I'm not sure if she is just out for a ride and a thrill seeker or if there is something more serious going on.

    I also don't understand what the driving force of the conflict will be in the story. She doesn't seem to have any real problems or adversary yet.

    I do love the little details that bring the world to life. I can see the desert, and her heritage from the details you have added. That's really good.

    Good luck!

  3. I think the pacing is perfect here. You're setting a scene, and establishing location, character, and even some motivation. The Spanish name and words tell us a lot, and I was curious enough to look up Tubac, so I can make a good guess at the time period even from this limited sampling.

    I do agree it seems odd that she doesn't have a name for her horse, unless of course she swiped it from someone.

  4. I love the Spanish setting! You also did a wonderful job of using sensory details to really set the scene. I felt like I was riding along with her.
    I agree with the others have said about upping the tension. You need a stronger hook here to make this stand out and feel different from other stories about girls and their mothers. Answering some of Alyssa's questions might help with that.
    Good luck!

  5. I think this story would hook the reader if there was more tension. A ride outside and a disapproving mother are not enough.

  6. I love the feel I get from your narrator, but the line of dialogue feels a bit stiff to me, almost like it's a literal English translation of whatever she actually said in a different language.

    Also, is she so rich that she doesn't care that she lost a shawl? Seems like she'd at least make a mental note to go get it at the end of her ride . . .

  7. This was well written and you made me feel the joy and freedom the MC felt on her ride. But, as others have said, there's no tension or conflict.

    There's also no sense of time. This is a historical and the only clue we get is the desert and Tubac, so I can guess we're in the southwest. After looking up Tubac, I know I'm in Arizona, but am in the time of the Spanish Presidio? During the O'oodham uprising? When it was a 19th century mining town?

    Perhaps this horse ride isn't the place to start?

  8. This was well written and Fernanda’s sense of joy really comes through this description of her ride. I'd cut "watching a hawk fly high into the sky, she thought, I feel as free as that bird!” since you’ve already shown us that. I’m not quite hooked yet, but I like how abruptly everything changes when she reaches home, and I’d read on a bit to see if this conflict/tension with her mother would really draw me in.